Greater Portland Metro is reconsidering its plan for a new bus route around the Portland peninsula following opposition from riders, many of them older people and those with disabilities who said the changes would mean long walks to bus stops.

The plan, intended to improve service, would have eliminated some routes, closed bus stops in downtown Portland and established a “circulator” that would run both ways around the peninsula perimeter and offer night service.

Many regular riders said the changes would put bus routes farther from their homes and would mean difficult trips to bus stops, especially in the winter. The plans were supposed to go into effect late in 2022. Instead, Metro says it will re-evaluate its proposed changes and align them with a regional public transportation redesign called Transit Together that is slated to be published late in 2022.

Greater Portland Metro Executive Director Greg Jordan issued a statement Thursday explaining Metro’s approach.

“Transit networks function best when they are planned and operated in a comprehensive and integrated manner,” Jordan said. “We’ve heard many of our riders living on the peninsula tell us how important it is to maintain door-to-door services for people with mobility challenges. To best meet those needs and build a better overall transit system that attracts new riders, we know we’ll achieve better outcomes if we opt for a regional approach.”

Metro’s decision to pause its new transit plan drew praise Thursday from critics, who say eliminating bus stops at places in Portland’s West End such as 100 State St., an assisted-living facility, would have created a hardship on elderly and disabled residents.

“For a lot of the folks who live here, the bus is the only way for them to go grocery shopping at Hannaford,” Greg Savage, a resident of 100 State St., said in a telephone interview Thursday night. “It would be a big hardship if they eliminated the bus stop.”

Savage, who has lived at 100 State St. for eight years, said that bus stops like the one outside the assisted-living facility are essential and should be preserved.

“Metro is so convenient. It gets you just about anywhere you want to go,” he said. “It’s a wonderful service to have, especially if you are a person who uses a wheelchair or a walker as your only means of getting around.”

Gwynne Williams, a member of the West End Neighborhood Association board, presented a statement last month  to the Metro Ridership Committee stating her opposition to the proposed route changes. In her statement, Williams pleaded with Metro to re-evaluate and slow down its plans.

“There is simply no reason to rush a plan forward which leaves the majority of current ridership without access, most especially those who most need it and lack alternatives – the elderly and disabled folks who rely on the bus to access food from the grocery store and medicine from the pharmacy. The new route achieves Metro’s goals of speed and efficiency by simply eliminating ridership,” Williams wrote in her statement to the committee.

She also wrote a letter to Portland Mayor Kate Snyder and Councilor Spencer Thibodeau to express her concerns over the loss of bus stops at 100 State St. and 77  Pine St., as well as the route that transports riders along Congress Street to Reny’s, CVS, the Portland Public Library and City Hall. Thibodeau serves on the City Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee.

“We are very concerned for the elderly and disabled residents who are losing their bus stops under this plan, who are the most in need of this service,” Williams said in her letter to Snyder and Thibodeau. “Both 77 Pine Street and 100 State Street are subsidized elderly and disabled buildings as I’m sure you know, not to mention 75 State Street. For Pine Street residents the nearest stop would be Brackett and Spring. That is an unmanageable distance with a walker or wheelchair for most, especially in winter. This plan will create a food desert for those vulnerable residents.”

Williams said she spoke on Thursday with Jordan, who assured her that Greater Portland Metro would do everything it could to make sure no one is left out of the regional transit agency’s plans.

“They are going to take a much larger view of the transportation issue and take their time in coming up with a plan,” Williams said Thursday evening in a telephone interview. “I’m very optimistic that Metro will be more transparent about its plans and more responsive to riders’ needs going forward. The pause is a huge relief.”

Announced last month, Transit Together plans to study all the bus routes across southern Maine, including those from Metro, South Portland Bus Service, Biddeford-Saco-Old Orchard Beach Transit, the Regional Transportation Program and York County Community Action.

Poor coordination has made getting around the region using different agencies a frustrating and time-consuming process for some riders, even as the number of people using public transportation reached record highs in the year before the pandemic.

Transit Together, coordinated by the Greater Portland Council of Governments, intends to recommend route changes to improve efficiency and ridership and examine ways the disparate transit agencies could make administration and organization more efficient.

Meanwhile, Savage remains optimistic that Metro will come up with a plan that better serves the city’s most vulnerable population.

“We are very pleased with Metro for looking at this another way,” he said. “They’ve heard the people and hopefully it (retention of the bus stops) will become a permanent change.”


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